Monthly Archives: October 2009

Publishing Tips via Twitter

Who would’ve thought a mere 140 characters could provide such a wealth of useful information?  For those of you who “Tweet” out there, you’re familiar with the character limitation of the popular site.  But even in 140 or less, information and helpful advice is abundant for writers out there.

I’m a fairly new…um…Twitterer?  Tweeter?  Twit??  Whatever you call one who Tweets, yours truly happened upon some great publishing tips on Twitter recently.  (#pubtip if you’re a fellow Twit–I think I’ve just coined a new term).  Like this one from fellow author, C Patrick Schulze, “Every hero has a flaw and every villain has some redeeming quality.”  Certainly can make you rethink your characters and what they’re capable of.

Or learn that “blocking” is a term that describes writing that is done to describe the movements of your characters, as if they were on a stage.

But perhaps the most intriguing tip was the one passed along by agent, Donald Massey, which challenges writers to avoid using “backstory” in the first 50 pages of their writing lest you want to lose your reader.  Not an easy prospect, but I had actually begun to get the jist of this about a month ago.

After a few requests for partials from agents, not to mention the rejections that followed, I decided I needed to do some re-writes. More than once I’d been told, “The story moved a little slow for me.” Or “I think this part needs to be more at the forefront.”  Or, “Sorry, but I just didn’t feel it.”  But I haven’t even gotten to the good part yet! I wanted to tell them.  Of course, I didn’t.  I only sulked off to lick my wounds and ponder what I was doing wrong.  It didn’t take me (too) long to figure out that if an agent was losing interest in my story so soon, a reader would too.

An agent, when requesting a partial of your work, will usually only ask for the first three chapters.  Now, this can be a big problem if your hook or your action (i.e. “the good part”) doesn’t show up until chapter five or later.  So, what was I doing wrong and how could I fix it?  I re-read my first three chapters again and tried to see it through the eyes of a reader.  This was hard for me at first…still is, because when I read for pleasure I tend to stick with a book, even a bad one, to the bitter end.  It doesn’t bother me to have to wait awhile for the good stuff.  More often, people want a little more instant gratification, apparently.

Pretty soon I realized that in order to deliver the goods, I’d need to “squish” my chapters and allow for more to happen in the magical “first three”, which, incidentally, is approximately 50 pages.  Go figure.   The only way I could fathom accomplishing this was to remove some of the backstory altogether or weave it throughout the rest of the book.

He-llo!  Don’t most of my favorite authors already do that?  Of course they do.  So why didn’t I already think of this?  Why wasn’t the solution so blatantly obvious and staring me right in the face when I wrote my first draft or even my edits?  Because those writers I most enjoy reading are just more practiced at blending it in so well you, as a reader, don’t even notice.  Now, I’m ready to play ball.  Just like the big kids do.

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Editing Is the Hardest Part

How long did it take to write my first novel?  Even I don’t know the answer to that.  Truthfully, I didn’t even keep track of time.  I just wrote.  Wrote for the sheer joy of it, carefully choosing one particular word over another.  Finding happiness in the way the sentences flowed with one another, watching as the word count crept up, day by day.

I do know the initial process stretched over a span of several months, but less than a year.  And, yet there were days, weeks even, where I didn’t sit down to write at all.  I have a nearly full-time job outside the home – one that on any given day can suck the creativity right out of you – so I couldn’t work on my book for large blocks of time, either.  Although, if you’d asked my husband and kids, when I was in the thick of things, it was all I ever did.

Emotional scarring and burnt dinners aside, I think we all fared well over the course.  The editing and rewriting, however, are another story.  Well.  Same story, just more work.

Editing is all about hacking away and tightening up and cutting out.  It’s hard to determine which portions of your blood, sweat and tears you’ll leave on the cutting room floor and which will end up in your final work.  Far more difficult than writing the whole damn thing in the first place.

All the what ifs come into play during the editing process.  “What if I cut out part of the backstory that the reader would find interesting?” “What if I leave in too much, make it too wordy?”  Or even worse, “What if I ax the world’s next great passage of shear literary brilliance?”  Although, if this were the case, I’d hope I’d have enough sense to recognize it before it went to the chopping block.  But sometimes when it’s your own head, it’s more difficult to see it even when it’s in front of your own face.  Exactly.  It’s nearly impossible.  Unless, of course you’re looking in a mirror, but then that defeats the whole purpose of this analogy, doesn’t it?

Yep.  For me, the hardest part definitely comes when the book’s finally “done”.  When you have to re-read your own work with a critical eye, the eye of a reader versus a writer.  To look at it and say, “Are you the best you can be?”, because sometimes, it can never seem good enough.

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